Allahabad Pillar - one of the oldest Ashoka monuments

The Allahabad Ashoka's pillar.

Above image:  The Ashoka Pillar at Allahabad in c. 1870 possibly sporting the lion capital fashioned by Captain Edward Smith in 1838.

The Allahabad pillar is an Ashoka Stambha, one of the pillars built by  Emperor Ashoka  of the Maurya dynasty who reigned in the 3rd century BCE. He  was one of the greatest rulers  of all time in the ancient period  and  is known to have become a well-known follower and  exponent of Buddhism.  This change of  perception of life had  happened after his decisive victory in the Kalinga War (parts of Ddisha) that resulted   in destruction, desolation and  death of thousands of innocent people including women and children. The question dawned on him was: Does this victory I 've got on the altar of death and bloodbath give me any satisfaction? Now my overwhelming ego has driven me to the edge of exasperation.   

Discontentment was writ all over on him  and after giving up his self pride, ego and pursuit of material happiness he became a staunch Buddhist, and started spending  rest of life in the propagation of the religious belief of Buddha and, in the process,  he established many pillars that carry his edicts. The Ashoka Pillar at Allahabad in c. 1870 possibly sporting the lion capital fashioned by Captain Edward Smith in 1838 is an interesting one. 

The pillar circa

There are inscriptions attributed  to the Gupta emperor, Samudragupta (4th century CE) and also  inscriptions engraved by  the Mogul emperor, Jahangir, from the 17th century. It is said that during the Mogul rule, the pillar was shifted  from its original location and installed within Akbar's Allahabad Fort in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. 

The Allahabad Pillar that is 35 feet (10.7 m) tall has  a single shaft of polished sandstone  (10.7 m). It has a lower diameter of 35 inches (0.9 m) and an upper diameter of 26 inches (0.7 m). Here the  loti form bell-shaped capital, a common feature in many  Ashoka Pillars, is missing because of the statue mounted over it.  However, the abacus, adorned by a "graceful scroll of alternate lotus and honeysuckle", that the statue must have rested upon, was found nearby.  According to historian Cunningham that the capital must have been mounted by a single lion. That the  abacus is  similar to the one found on the pillar at Sankasya suggests proximate erection dates.
The pillar circa 1900.

From Ashokan inscriptions we learn that  the pillar came up for the first time  at Kaushambi, an ancient town some 30 km west of its current location. It was then the capital of the kingdom of Koshala. From here the pillar was shifted to  to Allahabad much later when the region came under Muslim rule. Evidences point out that the Allahabad pillar was not a single one and must have been one of a pair as confirmed by the presence of remnants of broken pillar are found  at Kaushambi near the ruins of the Ghoshitarama monastery.

Since the 13th century, the pillar had been shifted to many places during the Mogul reign as most  of them were against idolatry.  Jahangir in 1605, however, re-erected the pillar that was  crowned by a globe surmounted by a cone. Later, it was  sketched by the Jesuit missionary, one Joseph Tiefenthaler, in the mid-18th century. In 1838, Captain Edward Smith "of the Engineers"  took keen interest in the old pillar and erected  the pillar once again, this time with a new lion capital of his own design. 

There are three sets of inscriptions on the column from the three emperors, Ashoka Maurya, Samudragupta, and Jahangir.


According to studies by Cunningham and James Prinsep of the Asiatic Society, as for the broken pillar just inside the gates of the Allahabad Fort  c1834  in the absence of clear inscriptions that became faded through time 
the Allahabad Pillar was very likely erected from the time of Samudragupta until the mid-13th century CE. The conclusion was based on the style of scripts used in different periods.

Horse motif on the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka ,
Ashoka pillar,
Above image: Abacus of the Allahabad pillar, with lotuses alternating with "flame palmettes" over a bead and reel

Brahmi inscriptions by Ashoka give information on the extent of the empire urging that period. Emperor Jahangir inscribed their ancestor's name and deliberately removed the third and fourth edicts (out of six edicts) of Ashoka inscribed in Brahmi script. The other scripts found on the Ashoka's pillar are
the Schism edict and the Queen's edict. The former refers to the Kaushambi edict by Cunningham, which is a command from the emperor addressing the senior officials (Mahamatras) of Kaushambi,  emphasizing the need to avoid dissension and stay united, whereas the latter refers to the  charitable deeds of Ashoka's queen, Karuvaki, the mother of Prince Tivala. the 4th century Samudra Gupta's inscription in Sanskrit is a very useful example of the classical Gupta period. The Jahangir inscriptions overwrite  much of Ashoka's inscriptions. It records Akbar's courtier Birbal visit in c.1575 to Sangam, the confluence of the three rivers, Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati near Allhabad fort. 

The Ashokan inscriptions on the Allahabad Pillar (along with inscriptions elsewhere) were essential to the  pivotal to the identification and study of the Brahmi script by The Asiatic Society's James Prinsep. It led to the rediscovery of the Mauryan emperor and the unearthing of the full extent of his empire.

Emperor Ashoka's edits
The inscription engraved in continuous lines around the column in Brahmi, contains the same six edicts that can be seen on the other pillars. Unfortunately,  much of the third and fourth edicts have been destroyed by the cutting of the inscription of Jahangir, recording the names of his ancestors. His selfish act is quite deplorable, destroying the historical facts and connectivity.  Besides the six edicts, the Allahabad pillar also includes what are known as the Schism edict and the Queen's edict.

Presently the fort is now occupied by the Indian Army, special permission is needed  to visit the pillar.